The Story with the Fish
13 May 2016
If a person spends enough time in a company, especially if that person works in Sales, naturally there are a lot of stories to share. So, when I was drafted to share some stories that I remembered, my problem was not the lack of stories, but to decide where to start. Hence, what story do I start with, 'The Story with the Fish' or 'Doing Yoga in a Hotel room full of Cigarette Smoke' or 'The Duty Free Shop in Hotel Nais / Yugoslavia'?
Kordsa in the eighties had just a few countries to export to: Italy, Yugoslavia, some Middle East countries and the Soviet Republic. The Russian Soviet Republic was a big market for Tire Cord Fabric exports; however, the logistics and the relationships were not too difficult. We had one single point of contact; a central company which was issuing specifications and handling all of the imports for the entire country. They were then distributing the material all around the country to all the different republics. We rarely contacted or visited end user factories and if we did, we were always with people from the central distribution company.
In the nineties, when the big Soviet Republic divided into several countries, our business started to face some new challenges. Some of the big tire companies were located in Russia which continued operations as before, but some companies which were located in the new independent countries needed to establish contacts on their own in order to import the necessary raw materials.
So, we had to visit them for the first time!
My dear friend Bülent Araslı, who is one year more senior then me, had a deep knowledge and understanding of the old Soviet and the new CIS market. He proceeded to visit most of those countries, either to convince them to buy from Kordsa, or to convince them to continue to buy from us, as we were supplying them indirectly in the past.
Flights from Turkey to the East in those days were infrequent. Even for a meeting of half a day, we had to fly there one day early, spend several days until there was a return flight and then take the plane back. Alternatives via other West European cities were available but usually more costly. We had to spend several days in the country, but it was usually not an issue as our colleagues there were very friendly and had a traditional understanding of deep hospitality.
In one of those trips, when Bülent had landed in the Caucasian country, he was taken to a dinner with a big group of participants from our customer. It was an excellent dinner with a lot of vodka and variations of fish from the Caspian Sea. Bülent especially liked one type of smoked fish - a specialty, for which he made a lot of compliments.
He was not aware of consequences!
Back in his hotel room, when he was about to go to bed, there was a knock on the door. A young engineer from dinner appeared at the door. He had a package under his arm, about a meter long, a present from the General Manager: smoked fish wrapped in a newspaper. Bülent thanked him politely and accepted the present as he knew that it would have been impolite in the region to refuse such presents.
He went to bed, but his mind was preoccupied with a problem. He had to stay in that small room for two more days without a refrigerator and with a fish wrapped in a newspaper! He thought, even if he would survive the two days, he was not sure if he could pass through customs with the fish without any problems and if he would be allowed to take it home to Turkey. He could not sleep and his mind was racing with these thoughts. Finally, he decided not to fight with his thoughts but fight with the fish! He wanted to get rid of it.
He took the fish and opened the door to take it downstairs and look for a place to throw it away. But, all the hotels in that region had employees sitting 24 hours in the corridor to service the guests. The lady asked Bülent something in Russian. Probably it was 'How can I help you?' But the way she asked and the tone sounded to Bülent like 'Sir, please go back to your room'.
Bülent was back in the room with the fish. But, being a very innovative person, he had an alternative idea. He took a nail clipper from his bag. The only tool he could carry with him, which could cut the fish in pieces. 2 hours after midnight he was cutting the fish in small pieces and throwing them into the toilet, soon he realized that this was not a very good idea as the toilet was about to become blocked. The alternative of continuous flushing water would have been noisy and disturbing in the middle of the night.
Clever as he is, he thought that another alternative would be to throw the pieces out of the window. He proceeded. About an hour later, he noticed that there is a big noise outside on the street. The cats in that part of the city arrived, fighting for the delicious fish. Next came the dogs, they were also fighting for the fish with the cats. The scenery was like in a Disney movie and started to attract the attention of the people in the area. One by one, all the lights flicked on and the entire city became alarmed because of Bülent. Police arrived as well, so Bülent decided to put off the light, end the process and go to bed silently.
During the next two days he took bigger pieces of the fish with him when he was going out and got rid of them in different parts of the city.
On his return, when he was at customs going out of the country, he was checked very carefully as it was forbidden to take smoked fish and caviar out. The officer noticed that he was smiling in a funny way when he had heard that.
He did not have the fish, but he had a fish story to bring home.